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Ralphie Report: Colorado Buffaloes make a statement in blowout victory over Utah

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Colorado

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffs REALLY needed that one

Saturday night’s tournament bubble bash between the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes couldn’t have gone better for the boys in black and gold, as the Buffs absolutely crushed Utah by a score of 89-65.

Right from the first whistle, you could tell that Colorado came to play. The Buffs’ game plan was clear, to force mismatches in the paint and attack the Utes’ lax perimeter defense with their extremely efficient three point shooting. After the Utes converted on a three-point play to open the game up, the Buffs used their game plan to roar out to a 12-0 run, setting the precedent for the night.

The Buffs’ most reliable option in the first half proved to be J’Vonne Hadley, who absolutely torched Utah open things up. Hadley ran Colorado’s offense with tremendous efficiency in the first, scoring 17 points in the first half alone and missing only two attempts. Hadley and the Buffs sliced and diced through Utah’s defense, finding favorable looks and knocking down their shots all half.

The Buffs’ didn’t slouch on the defensive end either, holding Utah’s star center Branden Carlson to only 2 points in the first half. The only Ute that the Buffs didn’t lock down was guard Gabe Madsen, who led the Utes with 16 first half points. Utah’s second leading scorer finished the first half with only 4 point, just to show how dominant Colorado’s defense was to begin the contest.

It was smooth cruising for the Buffaloes through the first, as they led 31-16 with 7:52 left to play in the half, but potential disaster struck. Colorado freshman phenom Cody Williams rolled his right ankle coming down from a layup and had to go to the locker room to get checked out. Williams’ absence was a tremendous blow to Colorado, especially compounded with the fact that Julian Hammond was unavailable to play on Saturday due to injury. The Buffs opted to roll with Luke O’Brien and Javon Ruffin off the bench while Williams was getting looked at by the training staff and things didn’t go too great.

In the time Colorado was without Williams, the Utes (mainly Gabe Madsen) took that opportunity to exploit Colorado’s bench and get back into the game. Utah managed to outscore the Buffs 18-12 during Williams’ first half absence, putting themself right back in the game. After Utah’s surge to end the period, Colorado headed to halftime up 43-34.

To start the second half, Buffaloes fans breathed a collective huge sigh of relief when Williams checked back into the game to start the period. Perhaps energized by getting their star forward back, Colorado kicked it into overdrive and immediately began to pull away.

The Buffs missed only one shot in the first four minutes of the second, as KJ Simpson and Tristan Da Silva hit back-to-back three to extend Colorado’s lead back to 14 points. Colorado continued their lights-out shooting performance, especially from deep. The Buffs shot 6 of 10 from deep in the second half, building up a sizable lead that they’d never relinquish.

After Hadley turned the keys to the offense over to KJ Simpson, simply nothing could stop the Buffs. Simpson was good for 14 second half points and was a perfect 3 for 3 from deep, which paved the way for Colorado to pull away from Utah. The Buffs defense also clamped down, holding Madsen and Carlson to a combined 6 second half points. Simpson’s stellar shooting compounded with Colorado’s elite defense led to a blowout 24 point victory for the Buffs.

Fresh off a season-high 21 turnover game against USC exactly one week ago, Colorado took impeccable care of the ball. The Buffs only turned the ball 4 times all night, making Saturday night’s contest against the Utes one of the most efficient performances in the Tad Boyle era. If CU can keep this momentum up and keep their turnovers to a minimum, they’re going to be very scary to play against going forward. For a team that’s had trouble handling the ball all season long, they certainly had one hell of a get right game against Utah.

For the second game in a row, KJ Simpson led the Buffs in scoring with 28 points, shooting 5 of 8 from three-point range. J’Vonne Hadley followed right behind KJ, scoring 20 points of his own and snagging 9 boards. Tristan da Silva had a slow offensive night, but his lockdown defense on Utah’s Carlson more than made up for it.

Colorado’s usual faces balled out against the Utes, but one newcomer really impressed in his limited playtime. Assane Diop played 8:15 minutes for the Buffs on Saturday and Colorado went +10 in that time. It really should have been +15, but the Utes scored five quick points in garbage time while the Buffs’ starters were to make that stat look less impressive than it actually is.

Diop finished the game with 4 points and 2 heads-up assists, along with a block. The freshman really shined off Colorado bench when he was needed most, which is an exciting sign going forward. Is Diop can provide 8 quality minutes like this per game going forward, that’s a huge game-changer for the Buffaloes.

After blowing out Utah at home, the Buffs bounce right back into the tournament picture. The Buffs entered Saturday’s game in Joe Lunardi’s the next four out, while the Utes entered in the first four out. Colorado has now leapfrogged Utah in the tournament bubble, which is fantastic news.

The Buffs need to keep this momentum up next week when Cal and Stanford come to the CUEC. Colorado’s next game will be against the Golden Bears on Wednesday at 6:00 pm local time.

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